Environmental Services

Marion and Gough Island Adventures

Marion and Gough Island Adventures

In September 2012, through NCC, I was fortunate enough to go to Gough Island on a 40 day Expedition sailing with the SA Agulhas II during September 2012. Gough Island (40210S, 009530W) is a nature reserve and part of a natural World Heritage Site. It lies in the mid-South Atlantic Ocean some 3000km west–south-west of South Africa and 380km south–south-east of Tristan da Cunha.

How I came to have this opportunity:  After my Nature Conservation experiential training year in 2006 I got the opportunity to go to Marion Island which is about 2200 km South of Cape Town. From April 2007 to May 2008 I was a Field Assistant on seabirds research and I was part of the South African National Antarctic Programme and a member of the Marion 64th Over-Wintering Team working for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

Marion Island bird research work includes:

  • Long term monitoring colonies (Wanderers Albatross, Northern Giant Petrels, Grey Headed Albatross)

  • Colony Monitoring

  • Ringing and weighing chicks in colonies

  • Cross fostering experiment

  • Processing newly arrived birds in breeding season that includes body measurement, feather and blood samples

  • Watching for copulations at the start of breeding season

  • Inventories of birds present every day during mating

  • Geolocators

  • Round island census work

Paul with a wandering Albatross chick

After my year at Marion and 4 months in Cape Town, I was selected as a Senior Research Assistant on house mice, seabird research and eradication of a small invasive alien plant on Gough Island working for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, but also a member of the Gough 54th Over-Wintering Team (Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism) from Sept 2009 to Oct 2010.  Gough Island bird research is similar to the work on Marion Island:

  • Tristan & Yellow Nose Albatross colony monitoring, but we also did work on Gough Moorhen, Gough Bunting, Sooty Albatross, Great Wing Petrels, and Great Shearwaters.

  • Penguin counts and breeding success of Rock hopper penguins

  • Mouse research to assess feasibility of eradication

  • Eradication and control of saginaprocumbens

Paul and Henk Louw working on a Grey Headed Albatross

In July 2012 NCC was approached by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for permission to train the new research assistants on the Gough Island. The new research assistants will be staying there for a year.  On 6 September we boarded the ship and it took us 5 days to get to Tristan da Cunha - an island where 350 people live.  We anchored there for two days before sailing to Gough Island. We stayed on Gough for 20 days, during which my responsibilities were to train the new field assistants by taking them around the Island. It’s a very tough terrain with mountains and steep cliffs and you can only get to places by foot. I also showed them all the breeding bird colonies and penguin breeding areas that they would have to monitor. Apart from bird research work, I was involved in the eradication and control of saginaprocumbens where I also trained the new field assistants in the different techniques to get rid of the plant.

Paul with two Dark Mantle Sooty Albatrosses

Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina)

I was fortunate to travel on the SA Agulhas I on the first two expeditions and on the brand new SA Agulhas II on my 40 day trip this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and thank NCC for giving me the opportunity to head back to these remote islands.

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